Is Working Together Harmful to Your Organization?

sandbox1I was behind on my reading when I stumbled upon an article in April’s Harvard Business Review, titled: “When Internal Collaboration is Bad for Your Company.” My immediate reaction was to buy up every copy and hide it from my leadership team. As I read the article, I understood the point Morten T. Hansen was making…essentially that sometimes collaboration takes up too much time and in fact eats into your opportunity cost of doing a project.

One of his main arguments is that forcing people to work across silos will only lead to turf wars and the time to tear down those silos will kill a project. That could be true but if you never attempt to tear down walls, those walls will grow higher and higher and stronger and stronger until one day, they will never come down.  Is that really a good operational strategy? 

I am really anti-silo. I believe that roles and responsibilities and domains should be clearly established within an organization to prevent turf wars in the first place. Oftentimes, to make a project or initiative successful, multiple domains need to work together. This is why allowing kids to play in the sandbox together is so important. Adults have to do the same thing in real life, and we are not great at it.  (Maybe we only fought over whose bucket the blue one was in our sandboxes.)

Hansen states that asking how can we get people to collaborate more is the wrong question. That instead, we should ask: Will collaboration create or destroy value? Value is exactly right. I agree that more collaboration does not necessarily equate to more value but I have yet to see a time where one person in his cubicle had all the answers.

Maybe not everything needs a cross-functional team assigned to move it forward but, at a minimum, sharing ideas and allowing others to have input will help manage change! That is something Hansen does not talk about in his article. Sometimes, collaboration isn’t all about the bottom line, although you can certainly set up measures to try and determine that. Collaboration is getting people to play in the sandbox, building off of one person’s idea and thinking through all the possible implications to a decision.  To me, that is invaluable.

Debate Over Learning Lessons and Capturing “Best”

KM imageAt our MW KM Symposium on Friday, a few of us had a lively debate over two cornerstones of knowledge management: capturing lessons learned and vetting “best” practices. While I don’t think we came to consensus on either topic, it was nice to actually discuss and challenge one another.

The debate over capturing lessons learned was centered around that focusing on only what went wrong never leads to what is right. That we should only focus on the positive, identify that and replicate it. I agree and disagree. I think there is still value in discussing what went wrong and then brainstorm on how to prevent what went wrong. And, that’s the key. Only capturing the “wrong” doesn’t do anyone any good but taking it the next step and realizing how to prevent what went wrong is a key part of sharing knowledge and not committing the same mistake over and over again.

I found it interesting that most of our debates centered around semantics and that semantics seem to play an awfully big part in pitching and clarifying knowledge management activities. “Lessons Learned” meant only focusing on the negative for one speaker; while myself and others felt that implied in “lessons learned” is learning. So, in a sense, we agreed that only focusing on the negative is not productive but talking about prevention and sharing how to prevent is learning and vital to any organization.

I presented the premise that we should enable people to simply share stories and not worry about setting up committees to review and vet “best” practices. If something is “good enough” it will meet the need of the person seeking the information to help them not start from a blank slate. That no longer do we have the time or resources to vet best practices. And, while there may be industries where there is truly one best way to do something, I contend those are really standard operating procedures and should be integrated into training manuals and process documentation. For other organizations, however, there may be lots of good ways to accomplish something. We should capture, serve up and let people decide and customize these practices for themselves and re-share to keep the sharing cycle constantly flowing.

Is “Good” Good Enough?

With the rise of social media and crowdsourcing, do companies need to be concerned with allowing only the “best” ideas, the “best” work and the “best” solutions to be visible and leveraged?  Knowing that this takes resources to review and vet practices, can we afford this investment or are we comfortable with “good”?

Simply, this is the wrong question. Too often I hear “best practices” still. This is what knowledge management built its own foundation on – capturing and sharing best practices. While this may still have some merit, good may be good enough if the work/ process/content/information/idea solves the problem. Who cares if it’s the “best” if it meets the needs of the client or user? In a complicated landscape of needs and problems, KM should be helping people find an accurate and appropriate fit not the “best” practice. “Best” can be hard to define so let’s stop spinning our wheels to do so.

Instead of complicated vetting processes where it takes weeks to get a “best practice” posted in a database, we should embrace the following:

  • Focus on capturing the right metadata for content to allow problem to be connected to solution
  • Social content rating systems to allow what ahs worked for people to bubble up naturally
  • Commenting on content is another fantastic feature of collaboration software
  • Empowering people to tell stories at a monthly show and tell luncheon
  • Let people judge for themselves – a tough culture shift for some organizations